EDWARDSVILLE — The East Alton-Wood River Oilers struggled in their season opener against the Litchfield Purple Panthers on Monday night in the first round of the Metro-East Lutheran High School Turkey Tip-Off Classic.
The Purple Panthers defeated the youthful Oilers 72-52. EA-WR started three sophomores: guard Zaide Wilson, point guard Justin Englar and forward Lukas Westbrook.
“They had three guys from last year that averaged in double digits,” Oilers' head coach Kyle Duncan said. “And we knew we were going to have to play them really tough, but we play six sophomores at a time and two juniors. I think it’s a learning process. We were within seven or eight points with four minutes left. Our style of play is aggressive, full court and push the ball.”
The Purple Panthers led 52-43 at the end of the third quarter. EA-WR senior guard Blake Marks’ free throws at the 6:30 mark in the fourth quarter cut Litchfield’s lead to eight points (54-45), but the Purple Panthers continued to control the momentum and outscored the Oilers 20-9 in the final quarter.
“Our kids were a little fatigued and we shut down defensively,” Duncan said of the fourth quarter. “It’s a little frustrating.”
Litchfield also capitalized early. It established a 6-0 lead early in the first quarter, as Cooper Scharf’s basket made the score 6-0 at the 5:38 mark. The Purple Panthers never lost the lead in the first quarter and held a 15-12 advantage at the end of the quarter.
Marks scored 10 of the Oilers’ 12 points in the first quarter. Marks’ three at the 6:27 mark in the second quarter tied it 15-15. Conner Simmons’ basket on the next possession at the 6:00 mark ignited a 6-2 Purple Panther run to make the score 21-17 with 3:15 left to play in the first half. Litchfield led 33-26 at halftime.
Marks finished the contest with an impressive 31 points, but Litchfield placed four players in double figures: Simmons scored 20, Scharf netted 16, Matt Meyers added 14 and Josh Franke chipped in with 11.
Litchfield took advantage of its size and strength, as its dominance on the boards gave the Purple Panthers many second chances to score.
“We got their starting lineup and their biggest kid on the boards was the (Blake) Marks kids at 6-foot-1,” Purple Panthers' head coach Drew Logan said. “We talked about using our strength and our size and attack around the rim as much as possible. We hit some outside shots, but we got most of our stuff in the paint.”
Logan also felt the Oilers struggled in penetrating his team’s zone defense at times.
“We know the Marks kid is a load, he’s a very good shooter,” he said. “And we tried to mix up some defenses on him and I think he had like 26 at halftime. We went to a box and one and we told our guy that you don’t have any other responsibility but to stay with him and Zach (Skinner) did a nice job of staying with him.”
Duncan said penetrating Litchfield’s zone “was tough.”
“A lot of these sophomores were shell shocked,” he said. “When they got the ball in the wing, they were looking to get rid of it quicker than they were in penetrating or kicking it out. There’s a lot of mistakes we made because of stuff we have to learn.”
Marks contributed seven rebounds and was a flawless 14 of 14 from the free throw line in the game, too. Hunter Hall chipped in eight points and seven rebounds, while Joel Biesk netted eight points.
Next up for the Oilers is a matchup with Freeburg in Pool E action at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in the main gym.
After the completion of pool play by all the teams on Wednesday a bracketed tournament will begin on Friday at MELHS.